Former Pisgah High School standout offensive lineman Neyland Walker is coming home.
After spending the fall semester with Charleston Southern, Walker recently announced his decision to transfer to Western Carolina.
“It’s something special,” Walker said. “I got recruited out of high school to go there but I decided it wasn’t in my best interest to go there. They got a new coaching staff and to come back home to the football atmosphere that Canton has — you can’t beat it.”
Located deep in Catamount country just over 30 miles from WCU’s campus, Pisgah High School and its community have strong ties to Western Carolina.
PHS Head Coach Brett Chappell and assistant coaches Jody Mathis and Jacob Hannah are all alumni of WCU football.
“(Mathis) is one of those guys I’ll never forget. He was one of my coaches and he was a starting tackle out at Western, which I hope to someday be,” Walker said. “Just to follow in the footsteps of those guys is really critical for me. It just goes to show that it’s been done before, it can be done and nothing is really stopping you from doing it.”
Mathis played for the Catamounts from 1991-95 and is happy another Pisgah Bear will represent at WCU.
“I’m always proud when these guys go somewhere, but it’s a little bit more special when they go to where I played,” Mathis said. “I’m so pleased that he’s coming home and going to be out there.”
Mathis said Neyland and his older brother, Kameron, who now plays tight end for NC State, are two of the hardest working players he’s ever been around.
Mathis also talked about what it’s been like seeing them put the work in to go from raw but athletically gifted freshmen to having success in high school and then moving on to the next level.
“When you see them take what you’ve taught them on the field and do it during games and be successful, that’s when it comes full circle,” Mathis said “It’s like one of your own kids. To see them get out there and play so well and then earn scholarships to go play at the next level, D-I football, it’s special, and that’s why you do it.”
Mathis added that due to Walker’s work ethic, athleticism and his 6-foot-5, 295-pound frame, he wouldn’t be surprised to see Walker find his way into a starting role by the fall.
Despite being four seasons removed from the last winning season at Western Carolina, Walker believes the program is trending in the right direction.
This year, in the first year of the Kerwin Bell head coaching era, the Catamounts started 0-6 before winning four of their last five five to end the season with some positive momentum.
Walker likes Bell and his staff and the level of football experience they bring to the table. He said the fact that many of Western’s coaches have played or coached in the NFL and have had success at every level is another encouraging sign.
“I think Western is really pulling together something special, but just a few missing pieces that hopefully, that coaching staff can put together, which I believe they can,” Walker said.
With such a strong football culture and so much community support for the sport in Haywood County and the surrounding western NC area, Walker hopes to excel as a Catamount and bring more recruiting attention to the WNC region.
“Hopefully, I go out there and perform well and get some more guys from around here recruited to go to Western because there’s a lot of hidden gems in western North Carolina that most people don’t see,” Walker said.
As for his next step, Walker is set to report to campus Jan. 7 where he will enroll in the spring semester of classes and participate in a full spring session of workouts with the team. He can’t wait to get to work.
“I like the offseason just about as much as I like the season, because I love the preparation that goes into the games you play,” Walker said. “College football games have 15-minute quarters, that’s 60 minutes of games a week, but you have countless hours a week that you’re sitting there preparing for 60 minutes. So you spend more time in the process of preparation than you do in the actual game. So if you don’t fall in love with that, if you just play for the Friday night lights or the Saturday lights, it’s not going to be worth it. But if you fall in love with that preparation side of it, it makes it that much easier.”